Cervenka resurrecting career with Braves

Lefty reliever on Major League roster after pitching in independent league in 2015

April 11th, 2016
Left-hander Hunter Cervenka was called up to join the Braves' bullpen. (MiLB.com)

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Approximately nine months after a humbling release from the Cubs' organization relegated him to pitching in an independent league, left-hander Hunter Cervenka is a Major Leaguer, now as one of the newest members of the Braves' evolving bullpen.

Before Monday's 6-4 loss to the Nationals, the Braves added Cervenka and right-handed reliever Joel De La Cruz to their bullpen. Cervenka, a 26-year-old Minor League journeymen, filled the vacancies created when Daniel Winkler was placed on the disabled list with a fractured right elbow and Jose Ramirez was designated for assignment.

"I'm just happy to get the call and be here, where I feel like I deserve to be," Cervenka said. "I worked hard to get here."

While De La Cruz could become a roster casualty to create a spot for Jhoulys Chacin, who is scheduled to start against the Nationals on Tuesday, Cervenka will have a chance to prove he can be the reliable second left-handed reliever the Braves have been seeking. Eric O'Flaherty had been the only left-handed member of Atlanta's bullpen through this season's first five games.

Cervenka learned of his promotion early Sunday evening while he was planning on watching the final round of The Masters. He initially received word from Double-A Mississippi manager Luis Salazar, but he needed clarification from his pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn.

"I couldn't understand a word Luis Salazar was saying," Cervenka said. "He said, 'Major Leagues,' and I was like what are you talking about? Then [pitching coach] Dennis Lewallyn called me in and told me what was going on. It's special. It's still not real yet. Getting to put the uniform on and go to a big league stadium is something else."

Cervenka certainly did not envision this occurring when, three weeks after being released by the Cubs in May 2015, he found himself extending his career by pitching for the Sugar Land (Tex.) Skeeters of the Atlantic League. The lefty made a strong enough impression over eight appearances for the Skeeters to gain a Minor League contract from the Braves, who needed to fill the voids created after they promoted many of their Minor League relievers to the Majors last year.

It is safe to say Cervenka has taken advantage of the opportunity. He did not allow an earned run in the 23 2/3 innings he pitched for Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett since joining the Braves' organization.

"That was a tough deal, not throwing well and getting released and then waiting that long to finally get an opportunity," Cervenka said. "Even though it was in indy ball, it helped me grow a little and figure out the kind of pitcher I was."

When the Braves acquired Ramirez from the Mariners for cash in December, they were simply taking a gamble on a live arm. But the hard-throwing right-hander, who is out of options, sealed his fate as he allowed five ninth-inning runs during Sunday's loss to the Cardinals.